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Black-shouldered Kite - Elanus caeruleus

Black-shouldered Kite - Elanus caeruleus - is a small raptor with a wide distribution in Africa, Madagascar, Iberia and Tropical Asia. It is found in varied habitats, from desert to open woodland, being most common in open grassland.


A small almost Owl-faced raptor, with large head, long pointed wings that project beyond the tip of the tail which is short and square-ended. Genders look alike but females are slightly larger.

Adults have pale grey upperparts, crown and nape, the wings grey with diagnostic black shoulder patch. The leading edge of the inner wing is black. They have a white foreheads, eyebrow, sides of head and underparts. The eye is red, bill black, cere and legs yellow. Juveniles have a rusty brown head, upper breast, and the back and wings are mottled buff or brown with prominent white tips. The young birds eyes are brown.


Black-shouldered Kites are generally silent, except in the breeding season. They utter a clear whistled 'chee, chee, chee' in flight and while hovering, or a hoarse wheezing 'skree-ah' when perched.


They roost and nest in trees and is on the wing early in the morning. It spends most of each day perched often on telegraph posts and dead trees. "Tail flicking" on landing. The tail is flicked up and lowered and the movement repeated persistently is thought to be a possible territorial display.


Black-shouldered Kites live almost exclusively on mice, foraging from either a perch or by hovering. Once they spot something they drop down in stages. They also feed on Insects, Lizards and small Birds.


Aerial courtship displays involve single and mutual high circling flight, and the male may fly around slowly with stiff exaggerated flaps. Courting males dive at the female, feeding her in mid-flight.  Females select males based on the quality of his territory. They form monogamous pairs, with a breeding season is throughout the year, peaking Spring and Autumn. Both sexes build the nest, which is a untidy shallow cup of sticks usually in the foliage near the top of trees. Between 2 and 6 eggs are laid, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 30 days. The chicks are brooded mainly by the female, while the male brings the food. The young make their first flights after 33 days and become fully independent after about 60 days.

Black-shouldered Kites are not threatened in Southern Africa, in fact they have greatly benefited from agriculture and the introduction of alien trees used for nesting in otherwise treeless areas.


This striking small kite can be seen on the following Aves Birding Tours / Safaris / Adventures: -

Aves Arid Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.

Aves Eastern Cape Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.

Aves Highlands / Tembe Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves KZN Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North East Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North West Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves Western Cape Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves West Coast Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.


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